Lakeland, Fla. — He heard what three of his pitchers had to say Saturday, and that impressed Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, and Nate Robertson — three starters who will not all make the 2010 rotation; one or two might not even make the team — all were pulling for each other during Saturday’s victory over the Yankees in which all three pitched.
“To see Dontrelle, Nate and myself all throwing well, that’s good to know,” Bonderman said, using words that were essentially repeated by Willis and Robertson.
Bonderman added, revealingly: “We’re not always going to be together.”
That three men competing for jobs would so openly care about each other struck Leyland, who also was impressed with the way veterans such as Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez accepted a long bus ride to Port St. Lucie on Saturday for a split-squad game.
“I’m proud of the way our guys are handling the situation with what could be a touchy situation,” Leyland said Sunday, before the Tigers’ 9-6 victory over the Rays, referring mostly to the starting pitchers who were openly rooting for each other Saturday.
“It makes it a lot easier on me,” he said, hinting at some tough farewells that could be in the forecast. “I think it’s helping them, too.”
Leyland already has said starters who don’t make his rotation are not guaranteed a place in the bullpen. In fact, it’s probable the Tigers will release one of their heavily paid starters — Bonderman makes $12.5 million in 2010, Willis $12 million and Robertson $10 million — if they don’t figure in the team’s 2010 rotation plans.
Jeff Larish’s 2009 season was not exactly scrapbook stuff. He developed a wrist problem in June that led to surgery in August. The fact he played for portions of two months with torn cartilage in his right wrist and a bone chip in his middle finger would explain why he had only six home runs and 26 RBIs for Triple-A Toledo after playing in 32 games for the Tigers.
Larish, 27, lost his place on the 40-man roster this winter, although it was anything but a demotion for a player who simply became the most expendable when the Tigers added offseason players.
Larish had a walk and a two-run single Sunday. He is hitting .429 in Grapefruit League games.
“He’s quietly having a good spring,” Leyland said of the left-handed hitter who can play first base, third base. He filled in at third Sunday after Brandon Inge left the game. “Early on, he was probably a little confused (about his non-roster status).”
Leyland told Larish during a conversation early in camp to just play his game and pay no attention to roster numbers.
The chat helped, said Larish, a fifth-round pick by the Tigers in 2005: “Definitely, when someone in his position tells you that, it relaxes you more.”
“I like Jeff Larish, I always have,” Leyland said. “He works hard. He’s quietly having a good spring. I’m happy for him.”
The Tigers spurred some interesting national discussion last week, as reported by Buster Olney of ESPN.com.
Olney wrote: “Some scouts who have seen the Tigers are walking away stunned by the number of power arms Detroit has accumulated. ‘That’s the best group I’ve seen in awhile,’ one evaluator said after a couple of days of watching the Tigers.
“Justin Verlander has some of the game’s best power stuff, and so do Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Jose Valverde and Daniel Schlereth. And there are some hard throwers coming down the line, including Jacob Turner.
“We still don’t know how much the Tigers are going to hit. But scouts already are seeing the makings of what could be a strong pitching staff.”